Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Target

Movie: The Target

Strange film. In many ways it's strictly B-movie action shlock with overdone direction, gratutious sex and violence, and a convoluted, non-sensical plot. But it's set in South Africa, which brings a different visual palette, and there are scenes in an African village (such as a tribal dance) that one would never expect in such silliness. I'm not sure what to make of it. It's not a good film for many reasons, including that it thinks it is and is too self-concious and full of itself, but there are a few interesting scenes that make you wonder if the material itself is okay but it's just poor direction that ruins it. The director does have some skills as their are a few well-done parts, but there's nothing consistent: it's almost like the film had multiple directors or the director was learning as the film went on (there are some really amateurish cuts and shots in places). Very strange. Probably not worth seeing unless you're interested in film-making. You can learn a lot from a badly directed picture.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Menace from Earth

Book: The Menace from Earth
Writer(s): Robert Heinlein

A neat little collection of science-fiction stories by Heinlein. I had not read these elsewhere, but they're very good. There's an interesting time-travel one that is too predictable and goes on too long (we see the obvious ending long before the main character does), and one about a flood that seems to have nothing sci-fi about. One of the best is the title story, about a 15-year-old girl who lives on the moon (she loves it and hates heavy earth) and wants to be a spaceship designer. She and her teenage partner have formed a company and are already working on the engineering. She's very mature for her age, at least in terms of intelligence, but naive in terms of emotions. The "menace" referred to in the title is a beautiful earthwoman, who, it seems, has drawn her partner away from work on the spaceship design. Could she be jealous? Of course not! Don't be absurd! She and her partner are just friends, associates, work-mates. She's just worried about their business, of course. Without her partner, it will go down the tubes. In the end, of course, there's a twist that reveals the truth to all, and it's a wonderful little character study with some nice sci-fi accents. Great collection.


Friday, August 26, 2005

The Brothers Grimm

Movie: The Brothers Grimm
Director(s): Terry Gilliam

I really wanted to love this film. Unfortunately, I just liked it. I didn't know what to expect but it was not as charming as I wanted. All I knew going in was that it was about the Brothers Grimm, the guys who wrote all those classic fairy tales and legendary childhood stories. In this movie, those tales are based on truth, and I anticipated something along the lines of Shrek's mad fractured fairy tale world. But in Grimm, the fairy tale references are too subtle to evoke much humor (like a person laughing at their own puns no one else quite gets), and the chaotic nature of the story too awkward to provoke much emotional connection with the characters. Everything's much too serious. For instance, early on there's a scene of the young Grimm brothers where Jake sells the family cow for some magic beans which are supposed to cure their dying sister. Throughout the movie, the rational older brother berates Jake for killing their sister -- that's certainly grim and not as humorous as it should be. Unfortunately, too much of the film is like that: the humor's so dark and serious most people wouldn't even think of it as humor at all, and even those who appreciate such things wouldn't do more than crack a smile. The actual story itself is rather linear: the brothers make their living as con artists, liberating towns from fictious evil witches of their own creation for pay, and are forced to uncover another similar con artist kidnapping young children in a town. However, this new menace turns out to be real, as the forest is a magical place and a real evil witch is plotting to regain her lost youth with a spell. So there's comedy in the con artists uncovering real magic -- but it's low key and mixed with realistic death and destruction, it's not exactly pleasant.

Despite all these flaws, however, the film has some genuine moments of inspiration. The visual look of the film is amazing: it's a visual feast of extraordinary proportions. The wonderful color palette, flawless special effects, and vivid presentation evoke a world that is both hyper-realistic and surreal, like a beautiful painting. There's some excellent acting, some fascinating characters, and the occasional delightful surprise. Unfortunately, it is the story that doesn't live up to expectations: though it tries hard, it has none of the magic of those fairy tales it is based upon, and in the end, it leaves you merely contented but not awed.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Phantom of the Opera

Movie: The Phantom of the Opera
Director(s): Joel Schumacher

I was not expecting to like this. First, it's a musical, and I'm really picky about my musicals (I abhor "talk-singing" and singing without a realistic reason). Second, it's opera, and I'm not a fan of unintelligble lyrics and high-pitched warbling that's supposed to be singing. Third, it's nearly two and a half hours long, which sounded awful. Finally, though I'd never seen any version of Phantom and didn't even know the story, I've seen enough parodies and derivative storylines that it seemed that I had. Well, I am pleased to report that despite all the above, I loved this film. Here is why. The first thing I liked was the modern direction. Joel did a great job of using modern techniques to enhance the story. For instance, the opening scene where the ancient, dust-ridden, falling apart opera house morphs into the colorful, grand Paris opera house of its prime is amazing. You really get a feeling for the building's impressive architecture, history, and style that you wouldn't otherwise. Next, though I did not like all of the music, and there were a few too many "talk-songs" (where people "sing" to tell you ordinary things as in "I'm walking along this corridor, heading to my bed after a long hard day of work, wondering what tomorrow will bring..."), I did like a fair number of the songs and several were quite excellent. The dramatic "phantom" organ music that plays whenever the phantom appears is really, really cool. Finally, the bare story was impressive and held a lot of emotion. It deals with a young girl, Christine, who lives at the opera house. For years she's been talking music lessons from a mysterious, unknown voice which haunts the opera house: it's the phantom. He's fallen in love with her and slowly his malignant nature emerges as he sabotages the star singer and (eventually) kills to advance her career. She becomes an overnight sensation, but also finds a suitor, a young man she knew as a child who's now a count. The Phantom, of course, is jealous, and thus the conflict is set. We feel for the poor Phantom, face disfigured and horribly mistreated as a child, who grew up alone in the vast underground recesses of the opera house, and who's a musical genius, and yet we are repulsed by his violence and unforgiving nature. We want a happy ending but sense a tragedy in the making. It's a dramatic and vivid story and the music enhances everything, heightening emotions, and helping us feel fear and love and chilling excitement. Impressive and well-done.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I Heart Huckabees

Movie: I Heart Huckabees

This is a strange, uneven film that pretends to be deep but doesn't have much to say. The premise sounded awesome: it involves two "existential" detectives. They basically study your life and tell you what's wrong with it, what's missing, show you the meaning behind things. For instance, one of the clients is a guy who wants an odd coincidence explained as it troubles him. Unfortunately, there are many, many problems with this story. First, the film is one of those episodic collection of interrelated stories, which for a movie like this, is a terrible decision. Those kinds of films only work when the like or are at least interested in the characters but in this movie the characters are all quirky and odd and we don't give a hoot. Second, the eratic story meanders much too much and has no focus, no throughline. It's just a mass of strange situations, images, and people. Third, the author takes an interesting concept and goes so far with it that it becomes uninteresting and tepic. For instance, a film about existential detectives is intriguing. But the author goes beyond that by creating a competitor for the detectives, someone with an alternate approach that tries to steal clients away, and the result is confusing, it weakens the original detectives (we care less for them), and it just adds more meaningless intellinasia-talk (big words that mean nothing). In the end we don't have much. There are some nice individual scenes, some brilliant concepts that go nowhere, and a few clever directing techniques, but whole package is useless and, dare I say it, meaningless.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Red Eye

Movie: Red Eye

Interesting and unusual thriller. Rachel McAdams is amazing and that's a good thing, because the whole movie rests on her shoulders -- she's in nearly every frame. She has to convey a wide variety of emotions, and though she looks gorgeous, she can't be too pretty as she needs to be sympathetic. All that is well-handled. Unfortunately, the story's not as strong as I would have liked. It's good but not great. It starts out awesome, with Rachel as a delayed passenger on a flight to Miami who meets a fellow passenger. They have a drink, chat and flirt a bit, and it's all very charming. Then they end up sitting next to each other on the plane -- a romantic coincidence, right? Until after takeoff when the man suddenly turns nasty: he knows all about her, knows her father, and claims to have an associate watching her dad and ready to kill him if she doesn't cooperate. Rachel's terrified, but when she finds out that what the man wants her to do will cost the lives of a politician and his family, she rebels. Thus begins a wonderful battle of wills in the belly of a 747. What I loved about this concept, and what the promos seemed to promote, was that the two would fight it out on the airplane -- and I adore such tight-knit action, especially when it has to be done under the unsuspecting noses of the fellow passengers and flight crew. Unfortunately, while there's a tiny bit of that, most of the action takes place after the plane lands, and then it's derivative and falls into standard action fare. It's not bad, just not as good as I wanted or it could have been. This film could have been unique and amazing, but as it is it's just pretty good (and most of that is due to the first half and to McAdams' performance). Still, it's a fun ride and worth seeing.


Monday, August 22, 2005


My great-uncle and great-aunt visited this past weekend, all the way from Missouri. They mainly came to see my grandfather, my great-uncle's brother, but we enjoyed some local sight-seeing and good eating. Now I've got leftovers to last me all this week!


Sunday, August 14, 2005


Movie: Overnight

Really cool documentary about an idiot bartender who was made into an overnight celebrity when Hollywood bought his screenplay for $1 million and set him up to direct it. The guy was such a know-it-all he alienated everyone, friends, family, and colleagues, and in the end his film barely got made and he ended up with squat. The film (The Boondock Saints) was a disaster and a financial failure and a classic example of how to commit career suicide. Hilarious.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Food of the Gods

Book: The Food of the Gods
Writer(s): H. G. Wells

I saw this book at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle and later bought a copy at Powell's in Portland; I'd never heard of it and it sounded interesting. Wells' idea is to wonder what would happen if growth would continue unabated instead of in fits and starts? He postulates a formula of food that causes this continuous growth, with the result of giant people, chickens, rats, wasps, and more. That's exciting and all, but Wells' real focus is on how Bigness changes society, and the discrimination and inevitable conflicts between giant and small people. Fascinating. It's a little hard to read because of some of the obscure language issues, and obviously much of the science and setting is dated. It made me realize how much the world has changed since Wells' time: even something as simple as 24-hour television news networks makes a huge difference in how quickly news spreads -- surely today giant wasps or babies would make headlines overnight! Once again, Wells' story peters out with a wimpy non-ending, but then story-telling was different back in those days and perhaps people didn't expect action-oriented endings. This one basically ends implying there will be war between the species (giant and small) but doesn't get into the details of such an event (which would have been interesting). The book takes a rather distant, scientific view which can be dry and uninteresting at times. Still, I liked the book better than much of Wells' other stuff.


Saturday, August 13, 2005

In Good Company

Movie: In Good Company

Well-done film, but not quite what I expected. The trailers were deceiving, promoting this as a romance between a young man who's the boss and his older employee's daughter, but it really turned out to be more about the guy learning that life is not all about the rising up the corporate ladder. The romance is just a sideline, one of the things that helps him grow up. Even though I liked what I saw, I could help but be disappointed that what I got wasn't what was advertised.


Friday, August 12, 2005

The Skeleton Key

Movie: The Skeleton Key

Pretty cool little mystery-thriller with a lot of bewildering nonsense about magic (Hoodoo, not Voodoo). Silly but not badly done and has a few interesting moments. The ending is predictable but satisfying and helps make the whole thing work.


Friday, August 5, 2005

Dukes of Hazard

Movie: Dukes of Hazard

I was embarrassed to buy a ticket for this movie, but there wasn't anything else new out. I kinda wanted to see how it compared to the TV show, which I remember. I was expecting horror, but actually, it wasn't that bad. Yeah, there is unnecessary language, and a few other crudities not on the TV show, but it really did capture the spirit of the original show in most ways (especially the narrator and occasionally mid-action pause) and was more fun than I expected. Casting wasn't as poor as I expected, though I still like the TV show actors better (especially Sherrif Rosco and both of the Duke boys). Jessica Simpson as Daisy wasn't that bad (certainly cute), but as to her acting skills... ahem... let's just say this role stretched her to her limits. (Yes, she actually seems out of her depth!) As to the story, well, the series was never an intellectual exercise, and the movie follows suit: it's just another mad plan by Boss Hogg the Dukes have to foil (this one involving strip-mining Hazard County and a road race). Basically, just forget the plot and enjoy the hammy acting, silly jokes, car crashes and jumps, and cool TV show references. It's not much beyond an episode of the show, but if you can get over your embarrassment, it's kinda fun.


Friday, August 5, 2005


Movie: Hitch

Pretty much what I expected: Hitch is a "date doctor" but has trouble fixing himself when he falls in love. Still, it's fun, manages to be a bit romantic, and ends happily. Innocuous but harmless.


Wednesday, August 3, 2005

U.S. Open Cup: San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers

Soccer: U.S. Open Cup: San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers

When I saw this game show up on the schedule I knew I had to go. My Earthquakes visiting Portland? A no brainer! Of course it is early in the Open Cup so the Quakes used a reduced line-up (and still won easily), but it was great to see DeRo and Mullan and Brad Davis and a lot of other Quakes play in person again. The team struggled slightly for the first ten minutes, showing a little vacation rust (they've been on the All-Star break), but they soon got going and easily dominated Portland. In the second half, Portland had some good chances, including one pass across an open goal mouth and a header during a scramble that hit the crossbar. But the Quakes squandered a bunch of chances, looking dangerous many times. The two goals were capitalizing on Timber mistakes. In the first half, Davis got in a good cross from the left and Wade Barrett was left unmarked in the Portland box and easily finished. In the second, it was Mullan, on a one-on-one with the keeper (former Quake Josh Saunders), who drew Josh out and deftly flicked it around him for an easy two goal lead. Portland made a big push at the end and while exciting, it was to no avail, as the Quakes move on in the Open Cup.

PGE Park, where the Timbers play, is a weird stadium. It's apparently a baseball stadium and the seats and stands wrap only around one half. That makes it difficult to see action on the far side of the field. Still, the view isn't bad, and I liked the atmosphere (the chainsaw-reving guy was awesome). The concessions were excellent (great pizza) and even the prices weren't bad (not as high as Seattle). The only really bad thing is the parking, which is non-existent. I had to park at least a half-mile away. Not fun. I think next time I'll definitely look into public transportation (which goes right to the stadium). Overall, though, great night for soccer. My Quakes won, but Portland didn't embarrass themselves, and I had fun.